United Healthcare Pro Cycling sent all six of its riders to the front for much of the final 10 laps, and Carlos Alzate held off Predator’s Sergio Hernandez in the final sprint to make it five victories in five National Criterum Calender events this year for United.
“We feel like a complete family at this point,” Alzate said of his United team, through an interpreter. “They’re making me feel like I’m part of a team.”
The family took two of the top three spots in Saturday’s race, with Karl Menzies finishing third.
United came into Saturday’s race with a near-500-point lead in the NCC standings. United sprinter Hilton Clarke had won three of the previous four NCC events, and teammate Luke Keough won the other.
“Winning streaks like this, we don’t like to talk about them too much,” United general manager Mike Tamayo said. “At one point, it will come to an end, but the boys are doing an excellent job of racing.
“Other teams are racing us hard. They’re getting more and more guys every time.”
Saturday, that other team was Team Predator.
Led by JeanMichel Lachance, Predator took over the top four spots in the field with about 20 laps to go. That quartet held the top spot for much of the next 10 laps as Predator tried to protect Hernandez.
“For Predator to take the lead the way they did to protect their rider, that was the best thing they could have done,” Tamayo said. “We were waiting for the right moment and chomping at the bit.”
Predator’s Emile Abraham crossed the finish line first for a $250 preme with 10 to go, and United made its move.
“When we saw them on the front, it was a little too early to go,” Alzate said. “We just let them go ahead.”
When the field came back around the next time, United’s Adrian Hedgyvary was pulling a train of teammates. With eight to go, the full United group of six riders led.
Team SmartShop’s Shane Kline shocked the field when he briefly took the lead with one lap to go, but the United crew gobbled him up after the first turn on the final lap.
In the final sprint, it came down United and Predator again. Alzate was ready to have his night.
“Today, I asked permission from out director, Mike Tamayo, to get involved in the break and make a go for it,” he said.
So did Hernandez.
“United Healthcare does a phenomenal job when they’re reacting, and they make it so far the last few laps that it’s really hard to move up,” Hernandez said. “That’s the way I like it. I like it when it’s really fast and I’m able to hold on to the wheel.
“It just happened that I was in the right spot (to challenge for Predator).”
Alzate won by half a bike. The race official’s finish-line photo shows Alzate up off his seat, bent over with legs and arms fully extended, making a “bike throw” to give himself an extra push.
Then he endeared himself to the finish-line gallery.
“I want to thank God,” he said after a cool-down lap, “and I’m very excited, because I’m going to have a baby girl very soon.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.